Do not say, “Because of the Lord I left the right way”; for he will not do what he hates. Do not say, “It was he who led me astray”; for he had no need of a sinful man. The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every deed of man. He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin. (Sirach 15:11-20 from the Revised Standard Version RSV)
I remember being in grade school, 2nd grade I believe, and quickly running a foul of a classmate. He was a PK – preacher’s kid and new to the school. I remember sitting in the cafeteria before school began and having a conversation about the devil – yes, I know, but hey, I didn’t have the blog then! – and he said that it was the devil who makes him do ‘bad things’. It is the same excuse that many people use today – speeding, cursing, violence – ‘the devil made me do it.’ Obviously, this was a problem a few centuries before Christ as well. Sirach confronts it with a very abrupt statement – Don’t blame anyone but yourself. We have free will as a creation of God – we can employ it for good or evil.
Recently, I have been asked about the idea of apostasy. Apostasy involves the idea of falling away from God. It is right to be reminded that nothing can remove us, but we sure can jump ship! The very idea that people would blame God for their sin, transgression, or apostasy appalls Sirach. I have actually met people that blame either the Church or perhaps the Pastor (or the easiest thing to do, is to blame the pastor’s wife) or perhaps a member. The real fault lies in the person themselves. They have chosen to ‘leave the right way’, to ‘fall away’ as the King James Version puts it.
The Greek here is a paraphrase of the Hebrew (yes, contrary to the KJVO myth Sirach was written in Hebrew originally) which reads ‘Say not, From God is my transgression, for that which he hates he made not.’ This leads us to a slightly different understanding of the verse, but both implying that God does not make sin and would not lead people into it. James clearly echoes Sirach here, when he says,
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. (James 1:13 NKJV)
It is interested to note the Hebrew addition to verse 13(b). The Greek says, ‘The Lord hates all abominations, and they are not loved by those who fear him’ to which the Hebrew adds ‘and he will not let it come hear those that fear him.’ Again, Paul agrees here when he says,
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NKJV)
Sirach here sees the orthodox idea of sin – that it is by our own inclination, will, and choice. We must choose to live sinless lives. Sirach says that before us is fire (the curse) and water (the blessing) and it is up to each and everyone of us to choose between the two, but if we choose the fire, then it is not because of God that we do this, the blame falling on our own shoulders.